Preparing Preschool Children in Rural South Africa for a Digital World

If anybody asked me a few years ago how I would feel about facilitating digital learning for five-year-olds, my answer would have been way different to the experience I am about to share.

In rural, under-resourced spaces our problem is not a lack of caregivers with passion; our problem is finding ways to get both caregivers and children excited about learning bearing in mind that most of the caregivers at informal preschools are not trained and have limited teaching materials available to them.

Our answer is the rural digital learning campus. Originally intended for adults and primary school children only, we asked: “Why can’t a rural creche with its children and its teachers attend too?”

In between the formal timetabling of our schools and adult learners, let’s squeeze in some little people, supporting their teachers with activities that they can take back to their preschools in the community and introducing the children to digital learning at the campus.

Three preschools in Mpumalanga have been coming to our campuses for over two years. On this particular morning, their little faces are shining under the Mpumalanga morning sun as they wait for the longest five minutes of their lives in a queue to enter the campus Open Learning Academy.

They are fiddling with anything and everything to pass the few minutes they spend sorting themselves into manageable rows. These learners have never been this excited about learning.

Finally the doors open and the children march towards their desks which are neatly organised with a tablet computer and a ‘boogie board’ (which is a digital notepad) that waits for them to explore learning about numbers and English words as well as interesting facts about plants and animals.

Each child sits quietly as they wait for instructions from a cartoon character on their tablet computer screen; the computerised voice will be reading the Cinderella story from the iBooks today. We know that today the children will also be painting using the iPads, building blocks (and learning colours at the same time) and also singing on the field outside. This is blended learning and our facilitators are trained to support development that uses digital and non-digital tools. We are not teaching coding at this age. What we are doing is giving a preschool child the skills to be able to access fun learning on a digital device. Hopefully this will be a good foundation for a digital future, but we also hope that, as digital devices become more pervasive, these children will be able to empower themselves to learn from a younger age.

According to the Digital Evolution Index, “South Africa has the most developed digital marketplace in Africa and the fastest growing digital marketplace in the world,” and now these future leaders who are stepping into a digital learning environment every week are being told that they have access too.

Our campuses proudly host three preschools: Mpila Preschool from Mkhuhlu attends Hazyview Digital Learning Campus (HDLC), and Ntshuxekani and Happy Homes attend Justicia Digital Learning Campus (JDLC), with 114 five-year-olds accessing interactive, fun and digital learning.

“I can never get enough of watching the children lose themselves in the world of learning,” says Mpilo Preschool caregiver, Gloria Malatjie.

Good Work Foundation (GWF) and its partners are proud of this programme that brings innovative learning to children in rural Mpumalanga. We would like to acknowledge the support of Charities Unlimited who have been the long-term supporters of the preschool programme.

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We know that today the children will also be painting using the iPads, building blocks (and learning colours at the same time.).

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Each child sits quietly as they wait for instructions from a cartoon character on their tablet computer screen; the computerised voice will be reading the Cinderella story from the iBooks today.

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They are fiddling with anything and everything to pass the few minutes they spend sorting themselves into manageable rows. These learners have never been this excited about learning.

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We know that today the children will also be painting using the iPads, building blocks (and learning colours at the same time) and also singing on the field outside.

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What we are doing is giving a preschool child the skills to be able to access fun learning on a digital device.

Written by Mpho Lebyane

 

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